Wearable computers: A look at the nifty gadgets coming your way
Published Sunday, September 8, 2013 8:14AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 8, 2013 7:34PM EDT
Earlier this week, Samsung unveiled Gear, its highly-anticipated digital "smartwatch," kicking off what many say represents the next wave of electronic gadgetry.
In the last year, even as smartphone sales growth has become stagnant, the "wearable gadget" trend has exploded. A number of companies have come out with sports-related, wearable activity trackers, while tech giants such as Samsung and Sony stake their claim on the "smartwatch" territory, with many more brands expected to follow suit.
But most exciting of all for gadget lovers are all the startup companies working on wearable computing devices, similar to Google Glass, that promise "augmented" or "mediated reality."
Here is a sampling of some of the wearable gadgets we've seen so far … and ones we may be wearing in the future:
A number of brands have entered this market in the last year, including Nike+ FuelBand, Fitbit Flex, and Jawbone UP. All of them use gyroscopes and other technologies for monitoring fitness-related activities, including speed, distance, and pace during runs, bike rides and other sports. The FitBit Flex also tracks movement 24 hours a day, including sleep patterns.
All devices record readings and then send off the data to a synched app.
Smartwatches as a concept aren't new; in fact, watches that act as phones and connect to computers have been around since the 1980s. Yet, for all the Star Trek and Dick Tracy fans out there, the devices have never been a hit with consumers,
But with recent advances in the development of faster and smaller processors, low-power-use batteries, voice recognition technology, and the ubiquity of wireless Internet, many of the smartwatches entering the market now are so loaded with features, they are effectively wearable computers.
That's had many tech pundits predicting that 2013 will be the year of the smartwatch. ABI Research estimates that more than a million smartwatches would ship this year, while Credit Suisse says smartwatches could be a $50-billion market by 2017.
Here are a few of the new and expected brands:
Earlier this year, Pebble Technology released its Pebble smartwatch with money raised through the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. The watch isn't fancy, designed only to runs apps when it's connected to either an iPhone or Android device. But it allows users to acknowledge or reject phone calls, as well as monitor email messages. It also includes a fitness tracker for cycling or running.
Many reviewers say they love that the Pebble has a long battery life and allows them to stay connected even while their phone is being charged up, not to mention its list price of around $150.
This watch unveiled last week uses Google's Android operating system to run a number of apps. It can make calls, display email messages and social media alerts, and includes a gyroscope and accelerometer for fitness tracking. It is also able to record videos and take photos, all while the user's phone remains hidden.
Some tech columnists have questioned the $299 price tag though, wondering whether consumers will be willing to spend so much to have hands-free capabilities when they'll still need their smartphone to make the watch work.
This smartwatch was also unveiled last week, though to considerably less fanfare. Like other smartwatches, it can receive phone calls and email messages. But what distinguishes it that it's the first smartwatch with a touch-enabled colour screen called Mirasol that can be viewed easily in bright sunlight. The watch and matching earbuds also recharges wirelessly in its carrying case
Qualcomm is said to have created the watch more as a proof-of-concept that it can be a player in the consumer marketplace and to showcase the screen display. The company said they might consider doing a limited sale online, for around $300 a piece.
Sony Smartwatch 2
Sony introduced its SmartWatch in June and unveiled an update Wednesday. This watch is similar to others on the market, but unlike competitors, it also lets users read the details of email and social media messages on the small screen; other watches only show notifications that a message has been received. It's expected to sell for about $250.
Apple iWatch (rumoured)
Many tech watchers have been keeping their eye on Apple, which is expected to unveil a smartwatch sometime by the end of the year. Rumours are that a team has been working on the watch design for several months at least, and while the company has sought trademark protection for the name "iWatch," the tech giant is staying mum.
Glasses over watches?
While smartwatches are all the buzz at the moment, many are looking further ahead to the next trend: "mediated reality" glasses.
Such devices can project a display on a virtual screen in front of the user's eyes, and would feature a much larger display for functions that are simply not possible on a tiny wristwatch.
Steve Mann, a professor at the University of Toronto, has been working on such a device for decades and is sometimes referred to as "the father of wearable computing."
He's been inventing, designing, and wearing what he calls "augmediated reality" systems for more than 35 years. And now, he's signing on with a few of these companies to share his knowledge.
As exciting as the possibility of these glasses devices are, many tech watchers say the biggest stumbling block for developers will likely be getting "non-geek" people to see the devices as anything other than weird-looking. Nevertheless, here's a few of the devices on the horizon:
Google has been testing its Google Glass for several months now, to great fanfare. It's promised that the devices will be widely available in 2014, and while a price tag hasn't been decided yet, many are estimating Glass could set eager users back about $1,500.
The devices are worn like glasses and are able to take pictures and record video and sound. Users are also able to check calendars, see messages from friends, get weather updates, make calls and use other apps as they become available.
Meta Space Glasses
Steve Mann signed on as Meta's chief scientist, as the company works on a pair of glasses that would integrate capabilities similar to those of Google Glass, while adding 3-D imaging and virtual reality capabilities.
The glasses, which really look more like a pair of safety goggles, feature tiny projectors built into each arm of the frames. But the feature that would really distinguish Meta's offering are the built-in infrared cameras that can track hand gestures to control apps, much like the Kinect feature of certain Xbox game systems or the science fiction seen in the movies "Minority Report" and "Iron Man."
GlassUp is more of a stripped-down form of augmented reality glasses that aims to be a "receive-only" device. It does not include a camera, and thereby avoids all the privacy intrusion that devices featuring covert camera are likely to run into.
The glasses link up with an Android smartphone via Bluetooth and are designed to allow the wearer to receive text-based messages and updates projected over the central portion of their field of vision. And at only $299, the device is expected to be much more affordable for average consumers.
The company recently moved into talks for a licensing agreement with Steve Mann's company and has managed to raise more than $120,000 through crowdfunding.
Vancouver-based Recon Instruments imagines a simpler wearable computing device. It's created Jet, a pair of "smart glasses" intended for athletes to track their performance in real time just by looking at their lens.
The glasses can do all that fitness trackers can do, such as track speed, distance and heart rate. But they can also be connected to a smartphone to allow text messages to be read and calls answered.
The first models of Jet are expected to be available in December, just in time for Christmas.